Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Most Important Skills You Never Thought Of

Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute (10 million copies sold) asked me to come up with a list of under-the-radar yet critical skills. Here's what I've come up with:

Time-effective digging for information. With nearly unlimited information merely a few keystrokes away, one of today's most crucial skills is the ability to derive on-target information in minimum time. That skill would subsume, for example, a good instinct for knowing what term to use in a Google search, how to use Google's syntax well, how to wisely read the search results: what useful content is available right there in that page of search results, which sites on page 1 of the results are worth clicking on, is it worth clicking on page 2, on a given site, what to ignore, skim, or read carefully, and what's worth copying and pasting into your working document.

The ability AND liberal use of risk-reward analysis. What's the risk versus reward of not only a physical risk but, for example, of being confrontive versus silent, investing in something, hiring someone, etc.? The ability and willingness to think probabilistically is a subset of that skill.

The ability AND liberal use of predictive listening: when it's worth interrupting, listening, or thinking ahead to what you want to say.

The ability to wisely decide when to put aside confirmation bias. It's well known that we tend to dismiss or not even take-in ideas that are dissonant with our cognitive schema, the core things we believe. Yet to create new solutions to problems and simply to be a person who is growing, one must be able to, in listening to an idea that's discordant with their cognitive schema, wisely decide whether that new idea should be dismissed apriori or is worth considering.

The ability to assess a person's openness to criticism and, more broadly, new input. Some people get discombobulated when offered merely one new idea or when receiving even a bit of tactfully dispensed criticism. Other people are more open and resilient. Effective communicators must be able to accurate assess their conversation partner's openness to criticism and new input.

Valuing productivity: In our ever more demanding society, people who try to be very productive will be ever more highly valued. Two supermarket checkers can use the same method: they simply look for the bar code and scan the item. But the person who values productivity does it as quickly as possible without sacrificing accuracy while a less productivity-valuing person will scan the items at a leisurely pace. A related inverse term is laziness: the person whose micro and macro life choices are mainly toward hedonism (short-term pleasures) rather than the eudamonic, longer-term contentment that comes from being productive.

Can you think of another under-the-radar but critical skill? Feel free to post it as a comment. If I like it, I'll let you know and will forward it to Dick.


Anonymous said...

Critical / Gray thinking.
Using the scientific method in everyday life.

Marty Nemko said...

What's gray thinking? I assume you're somehow referring to gray areas?

Critical thinking isn't under-the radar.

Using scientific method in everyday life is pretty good. I'll send that on.

Anonymous said...

I think the ability to effectively and unambiguously communicate ideas is very important. My thesis advisor would say, it's not enough to be right you have to be convincing, and this was in the field of science where you assume everything is fact-based and the data speak for themselves.

No matter what field you're in, you'll always find yourself negotiating a point or having to persuade someone in your direction.

Marty Nemko said...

Clear communication is of course a critical skill but fails to meet the "under-the-radar" criterion.

Justin Wehr said...

Ability to recognize that often your current bad mood stems not from external stimuli but because you need food, a nap, exercise, or a potty break.

Writing. Everyone knows that writing is crucial for communicating ideas to others, but what I think a lot of people fail to realize is how important it is to communicating and generating ideas for yourself.

Voice. Rightly or wrongly, people judge competence primarily by voice, and yet so few people practice sounding competent.

Knowing (and looking for) when tiny things could make a big difference. E.g., a small note to a friend to tell them you are thinking about them, or using a bag of lentils as a promotion technique.

Anonymous said...

Yes, The "Gray Area" thinking in the sense used by Dr Stanley Greenspan:


Its the "black and white" thinking that turns innocent slogans (like "Lt's make a difference") into a fads.

(Sorry for being anonymous, I guess I have to create an account to comment your blog).

Marty Nemko said...

Thanks, Justin. The one of yours that meets the criteria as an under-the-radar SKILL is "sound authoritative." Good.

p said...

The willingness to seek new information (this trait leads to self-educability, which is essential in a part of the population if the society as a whole is to progress), and the willingness to absorb new information offered (this trait allows individuals to be educated, which is essential in the majority of the population if you want to have a society that functions and can be led successfully).


Marty Nemko said...

Good one, Phillip.